Thursday, May 26, 2011

Blessing Israel?

            President Barak Obama has launched the State of Israel into a very bright media and political spotlight. Clearly there will be a vast number of political implications stemming from the President’s speech a week ago and the news media has wasted no time in analyzing these.

            The President’s remarks also bring theological and religious questions to the surface. The Holy Land carries with it very profound religious concerns. They are very real and very controversial—even among devoted and faithful Christians!

            The Bible explicitly states that those who bless Israel will be blessed and those who curse Israel will be cursed (Genesis 12:3). Beginning some 130 years ago, a few Christians interpreted blessing to mean faithful followers of Christ must ensure the sovereignty and exclusivity of the Jewish State. Following the horrific evil of the Holocaust in WWII, this Christian belief became increasingly popular and was galvanized in the historic establishment of Israel in 1948.

            The military and political history of Israel in the past 63 years demonstrates tremendous economic and industrial progress along with horrific violence, controversial military domination, open aggression, and hideous discrimination against some of the Arab residents of the region.

            Supporters of Israel are quick to point out that the nation’s strong military and defensive tactics are necessary to defend her citizenry against a largely hostile Muslim dominance in the Middle East—and with good reason. Much of the violence that has permeated the Holy Land is perpetuated against Israel by strong religiously and politically motivated factions that despise Israel’s very existence.

            Many Christians see the blessing of Israel in a context of upholding and affirming Israel’s right to exist as a sovereign nation, but cannot extend that blessing to a national policy that continually violates international laws by deliberately occupying the Palestinian territories and perpetually forces whole communities into the sort of desperate situation that actually fuels violent extremism in the form of outraged retaliation.

            This perspective understands our role as Christians as one of peacemakers and advocates for the grace, peace, and love embodied in Jesus Christ. Therefore, blessing Israel does not come in the form of turning a blind eye to the nation’s acts of aggression and actions that only fuel international tensions and help enflame religious passions throughout the Middle East. Rather, blessing Israel calls on the followers of Jesus Christ to work collectively with all residents of the Holy Land—Israeli Jews, Arab Muslims, and Arab Christians—to broker a meaningful and lasting peace that honors all three monotheistic faiths and their right to exist.

            Beyond the questions of blessing or cursing the State of Israel, there are perhaps far more significant questions raised by the continuing tension in the Holy Land—Questions for which there are no easy answers! Unfortunately, the simplistic and unilateral responses seem only to fuel more violence. As Christians, we clearly will not agree with each other on what blessing Israel means or what God requires of us in regards to the Holy Land. (Adding to the fury is the tragic reality that there are Christians on both sides of the debate who absolutely believe that all Christians must adhere to a specific theology regarding Israel thus making faithful dialogue among believers almost impossible.)

           While politicians debate the future of the Holy Land, perhaps we Christians would do well to come together, learn the broad history—taking into consideration Muslim, Jewish, and Christian interpretations of that history—and prayerfully work for a genuine peace that truly honors God and the children of God who call the Holy Land home! 

           Perhaps the first big challenge is separating ourselves from the knee-jerk, visceral, and emotional reactions that so frequently arise any time the subject of our national policy regarding Israel is mentioned. Let's be honest--Israel (and the whole Israeli-Palestinian conflict) is a volatile issue for many. It is way too easy to hide behind our preconceived assumptions of what we know we already believe about the Holy Land and the inhabitants wrangling over the small piece of real estate. 


Monday, May 2, 2011

Celebrating the Death of Bin Laden

Osama Bin Laden is dead. As Commander in Chief, the President and Special Forces under his command are to be commended for eliminating this man’s ability to deal in death and destruction. What happens to Bin Laden now is in God’s hands and I am content to keep it that way. What is in question now is how we, as a Nation, respond to this news.

             It is one thing to breathe a sigh of relief that one of the most dangerous men in modern history is dead and can no longer unleash his terroristic evil on the world. It is another thing to turn death into a celebration. Understandably pleased at the news of Bin Laden’s demise, revelers have gathered across the country and most notably in front of the White House and at Ground Zero.

            Rejoicing in spilled blood and celebrating the finality of death was fuel behind much of what drove Bin Laden and his terrorist organization. Images of revelers dancing in the street rejoicing in the senseless slaughter of thousands on 9-11 were horrible to watch. Yet, I also recall that such media images served to galvanize American resolve for justice and retribution.

            The retribution began nearly a month later when, on October 7, 2001, US forces launched Operation Enduring Freedom. It continued this weekend when the elusive Bin Laden was finally killed. It will likely continue for some time as the beleaguered Al Qaida regime struggles to regain its legitimacy without its spiritual leader.

            From a political perspective, massive celebrations and mindless dancing in the streets reveling at the death of a spiritual leader—albeit one deemed by most Muslims and Christians and evil spiritual leader—will do nothing but embolden his followers.

            From a spiritual perspective, the reality may be even more serious. As a Christian, my mind turns to King David of the Bible. When faced with the death of his arch enemy, the psychotic and destructive King Saul, David did not rejoice or revel in his death. Rather he mourned the fact that conflict had risen to the level where death was the only solution. Rather than see political killing as a point of celebration, David recognized it for what it truly was—a stain on the integrity of the human spirit and affront to that which was created in God’s image.

            As a nation, the most dignified and faithful response we can have to the reality of Bin Laden’s death is somber appreciation for what has happened. Celebratory antics may feel good in the moment but they run the danger of making us no better than the man whose life was dedicated to reveling in the deaths of others.

            Bin Laden is dead. Rather than celebrating his demise with an arrogant presumptive nature that we are lords over death, it is now time to come to prayer as a Nation and collectively seek God’s guidance to work for a world where death is no longer necessary to bring peace.